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Previewing Rutgers

Tom Allen wants to close out the season strong

NCAA Football: Indiana at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The big Indiana Football news this week is that both Michael Penix and Jack Tuttle have been cleared for some practice reps alongside Donaven McCulley this week. It’s not clear whether either will be ready for Saturday’s game against Rutgers, but Tom Allen did say the staff has re-opened the discussion about redshirting McCulley this season, which suggests that there’s a decent chance either Penix or Tuttle play this weekend. McCulley has already seen action in four games, so he would not be allowed to take any snaps if he wants to preserve his redshirt eligibility.

Last Saturday’s loss to Michigan doomed the Hoosier’s bowl hopes, so playing either Penix or Tuttle would be more about pride than salvaging this disappointing season. Penix playing could be something of an answer to longer-term questions about his health and future in football after going down with season-ending injuries in each of the past three seasons. Tuttle, on the other hand, will likely be in competition with McCulley for next year’s starting spot so any rep he can get may give him an edge. Meanwhile, Tom Allen will have to balance competitive advantages with the fact that the transfer portal now gives any player an option to immediately step into more playing time elsewhere if things aren’t working out.

Quarterback situation aside, losing to Rutgers always sucks, so let’s take a look at this year’s Scarlet Knights ahead of Saturday’s matchup in Bloomington.

The Schedule

Rutgers’ out of conference schedule was, like every Indiana opponent this year, easier than the Hoosiers’. They opened the season with a 61-14 win over Temple and then beat Delaware 45-13 in week three for two of their four wins. Their other two wins, a 17-7 week two victory at Syracuse and a 20-14 win in Champaign are more impressive, but each of those teams have been a bit up and down this season so it’s difficult to assess the value of those wins.

Indiana and Rutgers have each played Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights fared better against Michigan, losing only by a touchdown in a low-scoring 20-13 game. Indiana, though, was playing their third string quarterback on the road against the Wolverines. In their 31-13 loss to Michigan State, Rutgers briefly lost their starting quarterback, Noah Vedral, which will be discussed in more depth later. Indiana kept it closer against Sparty with back up Jack Tuttle in. Both Indiana and Rutgers lost to Ohio State handily, with the Scarlet Knights adding a garbage time touchdown late to make the game look closer than it was.

The Players

So far this season, Rutgers has had seven different players throw at least one pass. Five of these players are listed as quarterbacks on the roster, meaning the Scarlet Knights have had to go even deeper into their depth chart than Indiana has. Noah Vedral, the starter out of camp, has missed time in each of the last four games, but has only sat out one full game in his two seasons at Rutgers. On the season, he’s completed 61% of his passes for seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Greg Schiano hasn’t yet said whether Vedral will play against Indiana, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cole Snyder gets the start instead. Snyder has only thrown 28 passes on the year, completing 64.3% for one touchdown (the garbage time score against the Buckeyes).

Isaih Pacheco has been the Scarlet Knight’s primary ball-carrier this season, averaging 3.8 yards per carry on 125 attempts for three touchdowns. Vedral has the second most rushing attempts on the team with 77 carries, but he averages just 3.1 yards per. In short yardage situations, Rutgers turns to Kyle Monangai, a 5’9, 200 lb. power back with four touchdowns on the season but whose longest run is 20 yards. Bo Melton, Shameen Jones, and Aron Cruickshank lead the receiving core, though the trio have combined for just five touchdowns due to their quarterback issues.

Defensively, both Julius Turner and Aaron Lewis have recorded 2.5 sacks as defensive lineman, while their linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi has 3.5 sacks himself. Fatukasi has also forced two fumbles on the season. Max Melton leads the defense with two interceptions and his five passes defended is second to Kessawn Abraham’s 7.

Team Stats

As much as it pains me to write this, Rutgers matches up pretty closely with Indiana in team statistics. Rutgers 327.2 yards per game on offense is better than Indiana by about 15 yards, which has translated into one more point per game (21.3 vs. 20.3). The passing yards per game, are even closer, with Rutgers averaging 189.6 versus Indiana’s 189.4. Not pretty. Defensively, Indiana is allowing 383 yards per game compared to 384.2 from the Rutgers defense. Despite the similarity in yards allowed per game, Rutgers is faring better in points allowed by almost a touchdown.

Both teams have been hampered by injuries, but Indiana’s schedule remains the hardest in the country, so the statistical similarities may not be as telling as one might think. Rutgers’ schedule is the 32nd toughest, for reference. Regaining either Penix or Tuttle could also be a huge advantage for Indiana, as the offensive stats have suffered a bit while McCulley has gotten acclimated to the college game. Add in the fact that this game is in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers should have their best shot to move beyond the two win mark this weekend.